Perhaps the most awkward season of parenting is this one where an adoption is imminent, but miles of ocean and red tape still separate the waiting ones from the arms so ready to embrace them forever. As I go about my normal routine, they are always on my mind. Are they carrying water right now? Is someone coaching them to memorize the alphabet yet? What sounds fill their ears as they fall asleep? Crickets? Music? The words, beautiful or not, of the adults around them? Do they feel safe? Will they be terrified of me?
This kind of wondering and speculating can drive a mama’s heart to frantic anxiety because these children feel so real, so ours, and yet so out of reach.
Or are they?
When I was little, my mom used to tell me that when I wanted to talk to Jesus, I could ask Him to pull me onto his lap. That image has never left me and now, as I long to pull the girls onto my lap and meet their every need, it seems so obvious to just ask Jesus to do that for all three of us while we wait.
Throughout the day, my eyes close and He whispers “I’ve got you. What do you need?” The God who is not constrained by distance or time can gather us in the same space and doesn’t He love to build and restore? He’s the God who loves to make something out of nothing, to take what is not and make it real.
And so I ask Him to – even now when they don’t know I’m coming and my imagination of their days could be drastically inaccurate. Even now as I wonder what their personalities are like and if I’ll get to teach them to read, pull their first tooth, be the first one to say “I love you”. As paralyzing as the 10,000 miles separating me from the girls may seem now, life has taught me that even after those miles are crossed, fear and lost time and language barriers and trauma surface to remind that physical nearness is not the cure-all answer to our hearts’ ache. The kinds of wounds we’re dealing with here cannot be healed by cuddles and bedtime stories and back logged vaccinations alone. These are wounds, mine and theirs, that need the touch of a perfect Father – and we happen to have One who knows no limitations of time, space, and distance.
So when that Father sits beside their African beds while I eat my American lunch, why wouldn’t I ask Him to begin His work in them (and in me as their mother)…even now. I ask Him to begin building up their little hearts to know me, trust me, want me. I ask Him to gather their broken places in such a way that they will feel safe with me.
And you? Maybe the distance you feel is not miles, but invisible walls around a child’s heart. Maybe you’re a teacher whose little students walk home to empty refrigerators and absent parents and the few hours you have with them seem so insignificant to heal. This is for you, too.
Below is a PDF download of the verses I am praying over the girls (and have been praying over my yet-undiscovered waiting children for years). Many of them are from the Old Testament and I know that can be a hang up. They were specific to people and places and battles then, yes, but Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. Those stories, words, and promises are recorded so that we know what we can ask. The history of those men and woman long ago is a promise for us to cling to here and now – to remember that just because our problems might be smaller than those of Gideon and David and Noah, our God is not.
1. You will fall in love with a picture and a child a world away, and you will lay awake at night, thinking of this child and wondering about the days, months, years that you have missed. You’ll wonder if you will ever truly be “Mommy” and if your love will fill the void of an empty heart. An ache will fill you down deep in your soul and it will become your necessary strength for this journey.
2. You will try to share this crazy, incredible adoption experience with your closest friends and loved ones and find their blank stares and “Are you completely crazy?” comments unnerving. They won’t get it, and that’s okay, because you know in your soul that you are this child’s mother and you will give up trying to explain it to everyone.
3. Your “Gotcha Day” might not be filled with cute pictures you can’t wait to post on the internet of you and your new child. In fact, the hand-over will be quick, the paperwork a blur, the guide will pat your back and say, “See you tomorrow!” and you will find yourself in a quiet hotel room, alone, with a child whom you loved from afar but cannot even begin to communicate with. The newness and shock will wear off within a day or two and then reality will set in, for both you AND your child, and your world will start spinning with thoughts of “what have we done?” and “can we DO this?” and their world will be spinning with thoughts of “I’m scared!” and “I want to go back to the orphanage!” and even if you know this is for the very best you will both be struggling under the weight of the UNKNOWN yet to come. You will lie awake at night with a stranger in the room and hope you haven’t just made the biggest mistake of your life. You will long for your other children, for home, for sights, smells, and sounds that are familiar—knowing all the while your child is losing exactly what you miss.
4. You will get home and things will settle down a bit. You still can’t communicate much, but charades and Google Translate and baby talk will work for a while. The jet lag will just about kill you, but once that wears off, the honeymoon will begin. Your husband and other children, your friends, and your family will lavish attention on the new child, and you will breathe a sigh of relief. This may actually work after all! The smiles, the giggles, the joyful, abandoned way your child embraces new experiences will delight you and encourage you. You will stress over schoolwork and foods for awhile, then shortly come to the realization that there are far more important things to be learned.
5. You will be shocked by this child’s immaturity. No matter how old their paperwork says they are, in reality they are more like a toddler. So you have to start with toddler basics—things like: sit quietly at the table, don’t wipe your snot on your shirt, don’t throw yourself on the floor when I tell you “no”. And you will begin the long process of repeating yourself, daily. Some new behaviors will be learned quickly—but other ones will take every.last.drop. of energy you ever possessed. You will have to teach your child how to snuggle, how to seek comfort, how to need people, how to read their body signals, how to do just about every last thing. You will cease to stress over schoolwork and such and will learn to appreciate little victories—like the first time you take your child to the store and they don’t crawl under the clothing racks or run around in loud circles. Or the first time they fall and get hurt and run TO you instead of AWAY from you. You’ll capture the first unsolicited kiss or hug and the first “I love you” and keep the memory and sweetness of it tucked away for the next exhausting day.
6. The honeymoon will eventually wear off completely, and your child will begin to grieve and rage heavily. The immensity of the loss (“Why my China mommy not keep me? Why you not adopt me when I a baby??? Why I not see my friends in China anymore?”) combined with the inability to process their feelings in a healthy way—and the language barrier—will send the child almost completely over the edge. The mourning process may be quick but it may be lengthy and you will be dealing with hours and hours of crying, screaming, raging, defiance, or running away. This child who never learned to obey will defy you at every turn. You will need to help this child all.day.long. yet will feel the guilt of not being able to meet the needs of everyone who needs you simultaneously. The new child “needs” the most so the other family members must take second place for a time. And your guilt continues. You will, out of complete necessity, pull back from EVERYTHING else in your life.
7. You will keep the “bad days” to yourself, far more than you should, simply because you want this to work and you know you’re right smack in the center of God’s will and you don’t want to hear the “I told you so’s” from the crowd of dissenters. You will fear scaring off potential adoptive families if you tell the truth about how very hard this is. You will find your entire world is turned upside down for a while, and you will wonder if life will ever return to normal. The house you used to keep spotless will become messy, the children you used to have well-trained will begin to struggle, and you will find every aspect of your life in fragile disarray.
8. Your other children will “love” this child, then hate this child, then learn to truly love this child. This process will rip your entire heart right out of your body, yet it will teach all of you about Jesus’ love. You will turn into a full-time counselor, guiding precious little hearts towards choosing love and forgiveness. YOU can take just about anything, but when your other children come to you and express their honest thoughts and struggles over this new child, you will come very close to wanting to disrupt, to start over, to go back to the safety of your “old” comfort circle. You will need other adoptive friends who can encourage and equip you to carry on when the going gets tough.
9. You will choose to continue on this journey, not because it is easy, but because it is good and right and necessary for healing. You will hold the raging child for hours and hours, you will redo and script and discipline and train and repeat yourself until you think you’re going to lose your mind. You will snuggle this child when it makes your skin crawl, you will love this child even though you don’t even like them some days, you will drop into bed drop-dead exhausted—and then you will get up again the next day and do it all over again, because you are committed to helping this child blossom. You will not rely on your feelings, because they will be all over the stinkin’ place at times, but you WILL rely on your husband, your faith, and your unwavering commitment to parent this precious child. You will dig down deep and plow ahead, KNOWING the rewards will be worth it.
10. You will wake up one morning and realize that you’ve both made it through the dark valley and you’re finally on somewhat even ground. Your child will brush their teeth without being told, will use a napkin and manners at the table. They will not whine, cry, quit, or cheat at their schoolwork. They will seek out affection and receive it willingly. You will smile as your children play together nicely and whisper sweet secrets in the dark at bedtime. You will listen and weep as your child finally opens up about their past, the abuse, and the heart of why they are who they are. You will take a breath and realize that you no longer love the image of this child–you truly love them. And you will find that your child is not the only one who has grown during this journey—you will not be the same person as before. You will be better. You will have no regrets as you realize you would gladly do it all over again to get to TODAY.
Selina is a busy homeschooling Mama to 7 blessings (4 bio and 3 adopted—including a teen adotion and virtual triplets!) and thankful to be married to her best friend, Brent. God has used their call to missions, their passion for orphans, and their personal adoption journeys to perpare them for a full-time orphan mimistry in South Africa. The entire Bergey Bunch make their home in a 35 ft travel trailer, embracing life on the road as they raise missions support before their move overseas. You can read more about their family at their ministry website, www.littlefishministries.org or Selina’s blog, www.bergeybunch.blogspot.com
As adoptive parents, we all know this day is coming.
That day where your child starts asking questions that you can’t answer. The thought of it breaks your heart, and so you try to prepare yourself, but you can never really be prepared.
Somehow these conversations always happen when I am putting on my makeup in the morning. Captive audience, I guess!
Grace: “Mommy, when are you going to have a baby in your tummy?”
Me: “Well, baby, I don’t know. Only God knows if that will ever happen.”
Grace: “I was a baby in your tummy.” (she said this directly and without question)
And there it is; the question I knew would come, heading straight for me like a freight train.
Me: “Sweetheart, you may not have grown in my tummy, but you grew in my heart.
Grace: “Well, whose tummy was I in, Mommy?”
Silence. Deep breaths.
Will it be enough for now, Lord?
“Peace, Child, be still and know that I am God.”
Me: “Sweetheart, we don’t know, but you were always in my heart.”
Grace: “Ok, Mommy!” (she hugged me and ran off her usual happy self)
For now, as an almost four year old, that is all she needs to hear, but I know a day is coming when she will not be satisfied with that statement of truth. That is OK and natural, but won’t make it any less hard. I hate that I won’t have more information for her. I hate that it will hurt her and could possibly rock her to the very core. But I must have faith because I know that God will be with her on this journey, guiding her, loving her and protecting her. My job is to teach her about Christ and His Sacrifice and how her worth and significance comes only from Him!
As I look at our recently adopted older Chinese son, Anthony, who has told us that his first mommy as he calls her (he is referring to his birth mother) was bad because she threw him in the trash, all I can do is pray to the One who heals all hurts, knowing that only He can give Anthony the strength and ability to forgive.
Naturally, as their mother, it breaks my heart to see my children suffer, just as it broke God’s heart to watch His only Son die on the cross, taking our sin upon Himself. And yet, God allowed it, because it was the only way we could spend eternity forever with Him. Praise God for His amazing mercy and grace.
Thank you, Father, for your steadfast love. You are our rock and our salvation. Whom shall I fear?!
After struggling with infertility for 5 years, God led Suzanne and her husband Adam to His Plan A for their lives—adoption! Their daughter, Grace Lihua, came into their lives on May 8, 2011 (Mother’s Day) from Fuzhou City, Fujian Province, China. And, their son, Anthony Jianyou, joined their family on January 14, 2013 from Shanghai. After a career in politics, Suzanne is thankful for God’s provision in their lives that now allows her to work part time as a Pilates instructor while home schooling their children and working as a part of the WAGI leadership team. You can follow their adoption journey and life on their blog, Surpassing Greatness.
My 6 year old daughter has just begun to ask some very thought provoking questions surrounding her birth mother lately. She’s my thinking child, so although this doesn’t surprise me, I must admit some of the questions…oh.my…let’s just say I’m thankful they have come mostly at night in her bed, with the lights off…so she can’t see the tears that roll down my cheeks. We’re entering a whole new chapter in this adoptive parenting journey and begging for wisdom and revelation from the Lord to help us wade and part these waters.
And at the same time, I’m often in awe of how the Lord has been preparing us for these moments, long before Ashley came home. I’ve mentioned before that I worked in the domestic side of adoption for a few years before transitioning over to the international. Over those years, I worked with birth mothers. And you better believe I took mental notes and had dozens of “light bulb, heart pounding, Holy Spirit” moments with these women. Some of them I knew for months and others I met literally in the delivery room or the day after.
But one thing I knew about each one of them….as hard as they tried to hide it, or as openly as they grieved, was that this was a gut.wrenching.process, and one that they would never, ever forget.
One day the Lord gave me this verse:
Isaiah 49:15 “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!”
The very God of the universe in His Word, gave an answer to our children…”Did she forget me?”
Can you see it? “…even if that were possible…” which means….it’s NOT. And even if it were…HE WOULD NOT!!!
Meet little miss “A.” She’s just a week new y’all and has the most perfect baby skin I’ve ever seen!!!
Her mama, “M” called me from our church’s Crisis Pregnancy Center a few years back. She was pregnant was interested in adoption. We began meeting and a few months later, a baby girl was born. I watched her do the most courageous thing a woman can do….hand her child over to another mama and daddy to love and raise as their child. And as I watched her grieve, I prayed deep for the woman that had left my baby girl at the orphanage gate for someone else to raise. It’s as if the Lord just allowed me a glimpse of her grief through these women in my care.
A year later, she called back. Pregnant again. And, choosing life for her child, a few months later I stood in the L&D hallway yelling for them to run FAST because their son was about to be born. And she did it again, this time knowing full well the grief to come. Don’t miss that this girl had made some very poor choices, but she had made the most important one for her children….LIFE.
This time around, she’s ready to be a mama. She and her family will raise baby A and get to experience all she hasn’t gotten to with her other children. And rest assured, she has not forgotten them….their pictures hang on her walls. As I left her house, I wondered if Ashley’s birth parents had photos of her….she wasn’t abandoned as a newborn. I’d never wondered that before.
When questions come that I don’t have answers to, I go to the Word. It tells me that it is impossible for a mother to forget her child. And it drives me to pray deep for the two women that will never know this side of heaven how the Lord had His eyes on these babies, and how He placed them where they are loved and treasured.
Oh, how I wish I could send you pictures. For your walls. Just so you would know.
Thanks for the reminder, M…..you are one of the bravest women I’ve ever met, sister.
Emily and Jay have been married for 11 years and have 5 childen–Avery 8, Ally 6, Annalyse 4, Ashley 3, and (finally) our BOY, Asher 2. Ashley and Asher were adopted from China and were both special needs adoptions. Emily spends her days chasing toddlers and waiting in line at carpool. Her favorite place in the world is in her van, all alone with the worship music blaring! She would count it an honor to have you be encouraged at www.ourhimpossiblejourney.blogspot.com.
Conscious or unconscious, it is a fear that plagues the adopted child.
Jesus is teaching me, gently and quietly, about this fear and how it takes shape in my own son. I don’t like to think about it, because I want to believe that my son knows he is safe, secure and loved. I don’t like the thought of him feeling afraid or insecure. But the reality is, his beautiful life’s story has a fear woven into it that I may never be able to truly comprehend. And I pray that someday the love of Jesus reaches deep within and heals its scars.
Sometimes I think people believe that when a child is adopted young, that they don’t remember. We think that they happily move from the arms of a grieving birth mother into the arms of a loving adoptive family and never know the difference. And we think that surely after they have been with their adoptive family for a while and seem happy and adjusted, everything must be just roses and butterflies.
My son’s tears tell me otherwise.
We have been incredibly blessed with a beautiful and smooth transition as our son entered our family from his foster family. He didn’t even cry when we took him from the adoption agency’s office back to our hotel. As a matter of fact, he fell asleep in my arms as we rode in the taxi, captivated by our dark-haired angel. At first, the nights were hardest. He would wake up multiple times, screaming and crying. But as time went on, the nights got easier and the days were full of laughter and joy.
He transitioned well into preschool, crying when I left him but stopping quickly after and enjoying the day with his classmates. Leaving him in the church nursery has gotten easier. He has stayed away from us overnight with grandparents. In most ways, he is a completely normal toddler- fully adjusted and secure.
Sometimes I see the look of panic rise in his eyes when I begin to walk away, even just up the stairs in our home, that can only come from a deep place of hurt and fear. In those moments, he isn’t just a typical toddler wanting his mommy. He is a child who has been abandoned by all things familiar and safe and is overcome by fear of it happening again.
I’ll be honest. Sometimes it is exhausting.
There are days when it seems especially close to the surface and it doesn’t take much to set him off. Being a mom of three, I can’t always just drop everything and hold him. But I am learning that convenience is secondary to fulfilling the need my son has to know he is safe. Loved. Secure.
I know that as he grows, we will continue to deal with the scars left by his past. There may be emotions and situations that are hard to understand. But I am thankful for the grace of God that gives us wisdom and discernment in those situations. And I fully believe in the power of Jesus Christ that can transform a heart that has been abandoned into a heart that finds its complete security in Him. Because, after all, Jesus knows. He was abandoned too.
“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” Matthew 27:46 Oh, beautiful Savior, that He would endure abandonment from God the Father, just so he could feel and understand the pain my son feels. Jesus knows.
If you are another adoptive parent dealing with the grief of your child, take heart! You are not alone. Jesus Himself understands the pain of your child and is able to give you the strength you need to love them through their pain.
Maybe you yourself have buried the fear of abandonment deep down inside of you from a past experience that sometimes takes shape in fear. Be encouraged today that Jesus understands. And He can heal that pain, remove the fear and replace it with the security of knowing you are His. Nothing can change that.
Today I am so very thankful for a Savior who loves my son so much more deeply than I could ever dream of.
And I wait in hopeful expectation of the day when my son realizes that he was never truly abandoned, but that His Heavenly Father was with him all along.
Heather and her husband Derick stay busy raising their two biological daughters and their son who came to their family from South Korea in 2012. They are youth pastors at their local church and Heather is a director of a private Christian preschool. When she is not working or spending time loving on her family, you can find her sharing coffee with friends, writing, making music, or getting creative [messy] in the kitchen. You can follow their family’s journey at www.ourheart-n-seoul.com.
I was tired, hurried, frustrated, and ready to just go home. John was pushing Mareto in the cart just as fast as he could to leave the store before the melt down got worse. We were frantically trying to open up a gluten free cereal bar in an effort to stem the tears. Arsema was strapped to my chest in the ergo carrier watching it all through wide eyes. Sweat beads were forming on my forehead, caused in part by my embarrassment, but mostly from the heat and amount of energy I was exerting by running through Trader Joe’s with an 18 pound baby strapped to my chest and a two year old crying behind me.
I sure didn’t feel like I was going to be in the running for any mom of the year awards. I felt like a hot mess. In fact, I was sincerely hoping that no one was looking at us closely . . . that somehow we were invisible to the people bustling around us. It was chaotic, exhausting, and an unfortunately all too common experience for us.
Our family doesn’t exactly blend in with the wall paper. Not only are we two (very) white parents with a very brown son and a light brown daughter . . . but he has has noticeable developmental and different behaviors (caused by autism) and she has physical differences with her missing and webbed digits. In other words, when we all go out together we get noticed. Usually I don’t mind, often I love it. My children are beautiful and so is our story.
Sometimes though, on days when we are very far from having it together, I do mind. Those days I just want to blend in with the crowd and hide far away from the curious stares. Some days I get tired of it all and just want to be a family. Not the adoptive family. Not the family with special needs children. Not the unique family . . . just a family. This was one of those days.
I was close to tears myself as John and Mareto went to put the cart away. I rushed through the doors to get to the car as quickly as possible when a voice behind me slowed my steps.
“Ma’am!!” She called out. I slowed, not sure if it was me she wanted.
“Ma’am!” I stopped and turned to find a young woman rushing toward me. A bright smile covered her face and I immediately noticed her beautiful black curls. Recognizing her shirt, I realized that she worked there and assumed I must have dropped something. I looked at her, waiting.
“I just wanted you to have this bouquet . . .” and I looked down to see the flowers in her hands. She quickly continued to explain . . .
“I was adopted by a white family and it has been a wonderful thing. We need more families like yours.” I stared at her, stunned. As she handed me the flowers I managed to choke out a thank you and try to express that this meant the world to me. She patted my shoulder, told me my family was beautiful, and walked back into the store.
My steps were much slower as I finally headed to the car with my arms full of flowers and my eyes overflowing with tears. On a day when I felt like we were the worst example of family . . . a day when I hoped no one noticed us . . . One did. He saw the struggle, the fear, the frustration, the panic, the defeat, and the tears. He decided that this was the moment I just need a bouquet of flowers and a word of encouragement . . . and He knew just who to send.
Lauren Casper is the wife of one handsome pastor, a mother of two beautiful toddlers, and worshiper of the King of Kings. She uses her voice to share her broken story of traded dreams and overwhelming redemption with the hope that others will see God’s work of restoration, healing, and grace in their own lives. Lauren is currently writing her first book about her journey through infertility and the surrender that led to adoption. She dreams big and writes with a transparent heart on her blog.
Truly the best and most fulfilling getaway we have attended.
We really benefitted from the couples’ breakout time. To have an hour to sit and talk, uninterrupted with questions to challenge our conversation was like a springboard of growth and closeness in our marriage.
Absolutely the most powerful example of biblical unity and expression of the love of Christ.
Life changing, heart changing…
We were not prepared for how impactful last year’s Together Called retreat for preadoptive and adoptive couples would be. In fact, we were sorta floored by it all. 122 men and women from 14 different states, parents of 186 children, 108 of whom joined their families via adoption. Worship, fellowship, time set apart for husbands and wives to reconnect, messages of truth that pointed couples to the God who pursues them, and red carpet treatment—God used every element of Together Called to work in people’s lives.
Come to think of it…maybe we’re not in trouble after all. We trust that the One who called us together will do it again. We know He can and trust He’s already on the move.
On February 21st-23rd, 2014, adoptive parents will gather for Together Called 2014 at a posh little resort in Lancaster County, PA to hear from Beth and Stephen Templeton, faithful servants and parents of 3 biological children and 4 adopted children from Russia, as well as a handful of other speakers with expertise in navigating the challenges in adoptive families. We believe that like last year, couples will leave refreshed and encouraged with a renewed passion to serve God and the children they’ve been blessed with.
We’re already all abuzz with excitement to be a part of it. And, that’s going to get even more fun tonight when registration opens at 10pm EST. Room is limited, and we’re expecting it to fill fast. So, set an alarm on your phone for 9:50pm EST as a reminder, and warm up your typing fingers. We want you to be a part of this. I know that visiting the Philadelphia area in February was totally at the top of your wish list anyway.
We are your average, American family; dad, mom, three boys, and two dogs that are constantly causing trouble.
Except we look a weeeeeeeeee bit different.
We are actually two white folks, including one with a bunch of freckles who doesn’t tan well, plus three black boys, ranging in age from five months to 18 years old.
Ok, we’re an anomaly and we know it. Some people think we are just plain weird. I’m okay with that.
To be honest, Brian and I really don’t care what people think of us. The choices to form our family have quite obviously not been due to public opinion.
We didn’t plan on adding three children in one year. We didn’t plan on adding children of all one specific race to our family.
We agreed, from the start of our marriage, that our family would include children who needed homes, stability, and love.
This year, three children entered our lives that needed just that. They just all happen to be boys and they just happen to be black.
One through legal guardianship. One through foster care. One through adoption.
At this point, just one has our last name.
But don’t be mistaken, each one has our heart.
A year ago today, I wrote a post about our city and our family. At that point, we had just welcomed our J-man into our home a few months before.
Thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr., his impact, his life, and his role in the city that we live rang especially deep in my heart last year.
Today, I can say that MLK’s words and his mission for equality bears even more weight and significance in my life.
Now, as parents of a black teenager, we have witnessed that misconception and prejudices about race are still prevalent and thriving. The road for our boys will not be easy.
We feel a very strong burden to give them the foundation in which to navigate a world where color is often still the first thing a person sees when making a judgement on character ability.
We believe that their culture and their heritage is paramount to who they are and needs to be cultivated.
We pray that the first and foundational thing in which they identify themselves is their faith in Christ.
We envision a future for them where their relationships and community is not defined solely by their race, but instead by common values and beliefs.
We hope that one day, our son will not be feared because he is walking down the street in a grey hoodie and jeans.
We pray daily that our boys will become Godly men of integrity and honor, who do not believe anything is owed to them, but instead stand and fight for justice of those around them who cannot.
Brian and I know that the choices we have made to form our family won’t be accepted by everyone.
We know that we don’t have all the answers on how to raise our boys.
We are quite aware that we will make many mistakes along the way.
But we are very sure that the three boys placed in our home this past year are here because they belong in OUR FAMILY. Not just anywhere, but here, with us and our two crazy dogs.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We have faith that though we don’t know what the road with our boys looks like ahead, we are a family formed with a purpose. And we are going to move forward and figure this out this crazy life together.
Leslie and her husband, Brian, live in Montgomery, Alabama where he is a youth pastor and she coordinates ONEfamily, an orphan care ministry. She’s a mom to five boys, some with two legs and some with four legs. All of them are amazing and usually stinky. Leslie enjoys quiet places, watching SEC football, and drinking an entire cup of coffee – none of which happen on a regular basis. She blogs about life with her boys over www.waitingonaword.blogspot.com
And this is how I found the heart at the center of justice …
College witnessed his first growth spurt. By what can only be attributed to the hand of God, Nate landed himself amid a group of boys (ready to be men) who had an early understanding that no part of knowing God was passive. They had a zest for life and for Him and for a life in Him that wasn’t just attractive, but was real.
They wrestled in the basement of this house-made-into-bullpen — pushed the furniture back and let the floor absorb their sweat as they sought grappling preeminence. Those same walls heard late night conversations about God and impact and a life lived alive. They played, hard, and loved Him and one another, hard.
I came into the picture when the caps and gowns were boxed up and what they’d talked about for years was finally being given wings with the freedom that comes from being in your twenties and charting your own course. And I couldn’t help but love them too, so many who now wore rings and had pledged allegiance to women who not only gave them permission but access to that flight-of-life, in Him.
In our early married years, the dreaming they’d done in college began to take shape. They would love, out-loud, those that many deemed to be unlovable. They would reach the unreached with a life — flesh, pressed against flesh — not just a message. They would lay down their pedigrees and positions for the lowly of the earth. They would live the Sermon on the Mount.
These men and their wives made plans to follow Him to the run-down parts of a Virginia city and plant a stake there that said: He loves in unexpected ways.
And their plans took shape. They bought houses for pennies and relinquished their Wall Street opportunities for back-alley living. They did it. They poured their lives into a cup of cold water for the poor.
Nate and I — we watched.
We left living room meetings where these plans were hashed out — only to pick up the argument we’d been having hours earlier on the way there. We barely knew how to be married, much less how to breathe. I was burnt-out, tired, on this treadmill of youth ministry I’d continued to turn up, despite my heart and body’s signs of depletion, and Nate was fielding all of my fallout.
We could hardly have the conversation, alongside our friends, of “what might this look like for us” because we hardly knew what He looked like after all these years of following Him. We were bone-dry and thirsty.
We had no cup of cold water to give and weren’t quite sure we knew how to to drink, ourselves.
I wrestled both with guilt and a measure of understanding of myself that kept me uncomfortable, yet certain that we weren’t to join this band of brothers for this next season. I had understood life to be impact for His kingdom, but I had nothing to give. They were called to live a radical expression I’d dreamed, but if I wore their shoes it would feel false.
This wasn’t my season. The expression wasn’t my particular calling. I couldn’t explain it more than that, I just knew I couldn’t force my way into another’s story and vision the way I had so readily in years past.
In the years that followed, God hid me. He hedged me in. I had no choice but to survive, and survival, for me, meant finding this God I’d said “yes” to on that snowy night in November at a Young Life camp, so many years before. I wet my journal with tears and unstuck the pages of my Bible. I talked to Him. A lot. I made scripture my prayer and paced the first floor of my house in darkened mornings and after the sun went down, asking to see the face of God. I sought my first love. I wanted back those early summer nights when Jesus felt near and His Word was the blanket over my life.
And I awkwardly formed responses at social gatherings and with old friends who poked underneath the hood to ask me about my life. They once knew me as the driven one who’d do anything for impacting the kingdom, yet somehow I wasn’t that girl anymore, nor did I really know who I was.
I just was beginning to know Him.
I sunk deep in my chair when others talked about the vision they had for reaching their community (or even just their neighbors) for Him. I didn’t know how to walk out my front door with confidence. I was being stripped of all I knew, whittled down to just this one thing:Him.
And I barely had language for this grand unraveling.
I thought that this, then, would be my life: forever stripped of any outward ability to make a dent in the world, but knowing — secretly — that I moved His heart. I was growing to understand that this season which I despised, was one He not only loved, but orchestrated. He liked me when no one was looking. He enjoyed my private devotion.
He wasjealous. Forme.
And just when I’d settled in to living, forever, in this closet we’d carved, He called for a change.
Out of this deep, dark crying-out to God — that had very little to do with any outward impact and all to do with impacting the heart of the God who made me and relished in my looking-up at Him — came the call.
In the throes of a barren womb, with many options, He made His voice for our one option clear.
I didn’t know then that one would lead to two, would lead to four (and likely more). Like any calling, we dip our toes in the water of “yes” and hope to God that this is the biggest “yes” we’ll have to utter — only to find ourselves fully submerged, years later.
Justice knocked on my door in the form of a Man and He whispered to me in my closet that this next season of love would include an expression outside of my little cave.
I knew it was right. And it was time.
Love had its way with me. I would be a bearer of justice, just a decade later than I thought and through a means I’d never conceived would be part of my story.
Had I done it early — had I moved out of obligation or pure zeal, and not from the place of that whisper-in-the-dark — I may have missed that great love story, incited when no one was looking.
And this, then, is why I adopt …
I adopt because I am crazy in love with this God-Man who loved me when I produced absolutely nothing for Him.
I adopt because when I read Him in the book of John, I can’t help but ask to see His eyes, in every account, just like I felt them beautifully boring into me when I couldn’t get out of my bed in brokenness.
I adopt because He wooed me and I am wrecked. For a Man — and what’s on His heart — not a mission.
The only thing I,personally, can uniquely do on this earth — that no one else can — is worship Him through my life. This worship is a construct of God’s, that in some seasons may look like keeping our hands still but our heart alive, and in some seasons it’s crazy messy with the dirt of another’s life in your story.
God is awakening His bride to worship with their lives. Him.
It’s here and only here that we will be fully alive. All the rest is the outpouring.(Yes, all the rest becomes all the more full when our eyes and our mission is fixed on His face.)
This is a call to the mamas and the sick and the broken and the ones who, like I was once, are having their insides re-wired: you aren’t sidelined from mission — nor do you need to buck-up and make yourself do it to feel like you matter — you are invited.Now. To have private stories of encountering the living and active God that may, at times, make your public life look like it lacks impact.
Let the holy start in your closet with that conversation with Him.
If our pews were full of those who walked in on a Sunday morning after having a week-long brush with the Father who told them how He saw them, who spoke to the darkest parts of their hearts with hope and strength and wrapped His arms around their brittle frames, no walls could contain us.What might we do for this God?
For those of you who want your community to adopt or to live right up against the broken, pray that we — the church — see our own fatherlessness. When the fatherless like me, even long before my father died, get moved by the Father, they can’t help but bring others into that fold.
Lovers will always outwork workers.
I have four under my roof who are being restored and, as far as we can tell, they are our first fruits. Our hearts have room for more. We rub elbows with the poor of our community as our family feeds them and prays for them. This, now, is just what we do. And it all goes back to some dark-black nights and mornings stuck in bed where the Father came to me and to Nate and began to show us who He really was.
We will rarely find love in the arms of justice but we will surely find justice in the arms of Love.
I longed for justice and then I encountered the One who created it.
And it all started with those eyes of His. When no one was looking.
(And those friends of ours in Virginia? They are still doing it. Still living there, a decade later. Still loving the world’s discarded. And it is beauty, pure beauty. A decade of beauty.)
For Your Continued Pursuit: Isaiah 42:1-4 | Exodus 20:5 | Luke 10:42 | John 12:1-7 | 1 John 3:17-18 | Psalm 33:5 | Psalm 140:12 | Psalm 27:4 | Song of Songs 8:7 | 2 Corinthians 8:9 | Matthew 26:13
Sara is a wife to Nate and a mother of four (and one on the way) whose birth canal bridged the expanse between the United States and Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. God met her and moved her when life stopped working. And out of the overflow of this perplexity, came her writing.You can read more of her writing at Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.
We wait under fluorescent lights for the girls to file in. Though there are some new faces each month, the veterans’ familiarity with us sets all the girls at ease. They know what to expect this night, these children of routine and rhythm, whose variables have been eliminated so that they might have one last chance at childhood peace.
They bound in, freshly showered — though many of them with hair in knots. Their locks are missing a mama’s touch.
All are dressed for bed but with hearts ready for play.
We’ve been instructed not to hug or hold, as touch has been a weapon wielded against many of these innocents. We’ve come somewhat in stealth to this secular institution — missionaries with His Word hidden, thumping, in our hearts, waiting to offer even just a morsel of life to children who casually say things like “I’m never getting out of here” and “I want my mommy back.”
The whole thing feels so surreal, each time I go. We laugh and dance and sing and I have to separate myself from the part of me that feels, deeply, the story of another in order to do pirouettes and make small talk and color. We all do.
Sometimes we catch another’s eyes — these women with whom I spend the other threeWednesday nights of the month, fanning the flame of our hunger for Him in a basement with Bible’s and hearts so often cracked — with a look that says: how can you even take in all this pain in one room?
On this particular night, the singers in our group are teaching the jammie-clad how to sing scripture. One-by-one these giddy girls jump from the floor to join the line of their friends trying their hand at putting a chorus to a snippet of His Word. They’re not old enough to be bashful; this is another chance for the mic. And we, among them, are secretly praying that this open mic night for these little ones — whose lives have experienced more life change in a month than many do in a lifetime — might enact a forever heart change.
Then the mic passes to her.
The one who eked out “I’m new here” in the middle of sobs, months ago, when she tumbled into our group one Wednesday night. In this place “new” doesn’t carry with it hope of a new landscape with new opportunities, or maybe even a new mommy and daddy. This particular place was an end-point for many whose conditions, worn as scars from a life too-early gone amiss, blocked them even from the shifting sands of domestic foster care.
She’d since learned the ropes. She had to — it was her well-learned survival to learn new spaces quickly and make a home out of any bed and a dresser.
She skips the Word that was passed to her and freelances, this fatherless one. I forget now most of her words, but for this one chorus where she stuck and stayed: The Lord is my Daddy, the Lord is my Daddy. Blond, would-be curls in wet knots falling over her closed eyes as she belts out words I can barely swallow when I realize who it is that is singing them.
She’s desperate for a Daddy, in a form of desperation I may never have known. Five (or six), and she has no hope but Him and her song carries weight as if she knows it. Somewhere deep in there, she knows it.
We all join her in singing. Her friends do too, this group of outward-ruffians whose insides were made in His image.
And I wonder about the chorus in heaven, now, this night.
What does the Father think of this sight — this tattered-child, His bruised reed, robing herself in a plea, now made a declaration as she sings it.
The night ended and I felt its slight impotence.
We didn’t tuck them in. I didn’t push her hair back away from her forehead and plant a kiss as a remainder mark of the day or a promise that she’d find safety in me, tomorrow. I didn’t sing that chorus back to her while I rubbed her back and her droopy eyelids fell like curtains on the day.
Whether their skin is freckled with boils from diseases their unwashed bodies too-readily received, or they get a shower every night and a visit with the one they call Mommy every month, the child without parents to shape and mold and hold them wakes up to the same void that tucks them into bed at night.
But this little girl hit the truth with the chorus she sang.
Full bellies and painted toenails and foreheads full of kisses only serve to reinforce the truth that will sprout a child into a wildly alive adult: the Lord is our Daddy. And even those of us who’ve never questioned whether a meal would come or a night would end with Daddy’s knees finding their way into the already-established carpet imprints beside their bed — we still have to find the truth of that song.
Beginning to grasp the mystery of the God who fashioned the sun to give us light also making Himself into a Father is what is making this mess-of-me whole. In my thirties.
“The Lord is my Daddy” are words I not only want to sing, but intimately know. (And I barely know them, now.)
So, why do I adopt?
If He is the answer for those dozen-plus little girls over there, not too far from my backyard, who have no strong arms to cuddle them at night, what draws me to step in?
It’s the vacant corridor I see behind her eyes when she feels the shame of a past she never willed or wished. It’s the lie I know she is telling me when I ask a question she’s too afraid to answer about a subject that makes her uncomfortable. It’s the uncombed knots in her hair post-shower. These physical gaps that tell the story of spiritual gaps, waiting to be filled – they are why I adopt.
God came in the flesh and still, today, allows our flesh to manifest elements of His glory. Our dirt doesn’t keep Him at a distance, in fact, some of the greatest glory is birthed into that very dirt.
For me, it’s maybe more selfish than it is selfless.
Adoption puts a stake in the ground that says “Restoration? Right here.” And I want to stand as near as I can to that sign, to that post, to that glory.
I adopt because it makes all the broken shards of a life, that seem to wedge their way into my skin when I get close to it, feel minuscule compared to the beauty of the song I get to hear from the mouths of ones who are discovering it, anew, alongside me: The Lord is my Daddy.
And this is the venue He has given for me — the one He has called me, personally, to — to hear that song louder than any earthly gap.
Because that gap is in my own heart too.
*[But this is the second half of the story. It’s the other one — the first half of the story — that keeps me up at night. Come back in a few days and I’ll finish this post … by introducing it.]
Sara and her husband, Nate, have been married 10 years. They brought home their two children from Ethiopia in 2010 and two more from Uganda in 2011. They have a heart for prayer and to see people touched by the love of Jesus. What started as a blog chronicling the ups and downs of adoption has become a passion for Sara. You can read more of her musings on orphans, walking with God through pain and perplexity . . . and spinach juice at Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.